Racebending in Hollywood: new films attract controversy
May 23, 2010
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Chris Lee’s article in the LA Times makes some good points about racebending in Hollywood.
Recently, fans of both Prince Of Persia and Avatar: The Last Airbender have been raising concerns about the main characters in these stories (non-whites in the source material) being portrayed by white actors. On the face of it, the intent of the studios behind the films seems clear: replace “foreign-looking” actors with comforting white faces, placating the xenophobes in the audience. Lee says, “the movie industry can still seem woefully behind the times when it comes to matters of race.”
But he goes on to make several points to counter this notion. He quotes Jerry Bruckheimer’s assertion Persians were light-skinned in the 6th century, when Prince Of Persia is set. He also points out actors from Mickey Rooney to John Wayne to Peter Sellers who’ve played a character of another race (my personal favourite example, though, was Charleton Heston’s turn as a Mexican in Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil).
The article also quotes M. Night Shyamalan, who is directing The Last Airbender, as saying his film, “will be the most culturally diverse tent-pole [movie] ever released, period.”
In some ways, the argument being made by those criticizing “white-washed” casting is an ironic one. By complaining that parts have to be played by actors only of certain ethnicities, they’re furthering the divide between different races and cultures. Rather than obsessing over race, shouldn’t fans of these properties be concerned with seeing the best possible actor for the part wind up playing the role, regardless of skin colour?
One final important note here: The Last Airbender isn’t out yet. If people want to give opinions on the casting, that’s fine. What they can’t do is comment on how the film portrays Asians, Native Americans, or other ethnicities. For that, we will all have to wait and see.